Moral of Bangladesh’s Secular Mortality
Since January 2013, 35 secular writers, bloggers, professors, members of religious minorities and foreigners have been brutally murdered in Bangladesh. Though Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State claimed responsibility for 23 of them, the Bangladesh government refuses to accept the role of the transnational Islamist terrorist organisations and, instead, blames domestic groups.
Its secular credentials notwithstanding, the Sheikh Hasinaled ruling Awami League has since 2013 made compromises with Islamist groups. It resurrected the obscurantist Hefazate-Islam, to tackle Islamist groups close to Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh National Party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami. The loss of moral legitimacy following the 2014 elections, boycotted by the opposition, increased the government’s reliance on force and Islamists. Even the government’s approach to the murders changed: it dropped public condemnation, suggested restraint in democratic reaction to the killings. The role of religion in politics and public sphere is an unsettled issue in Bangladesh. Blame a shrinking democratic space, crackdown on the opposition and accommodation with Islamic groups for resurgence of violent extremist groups, and increased recruitments by transnational terrorist groups. There is growing evidence that AlQaeda and ISIS are active in Bangladesh and stepping up their recruitment drives. The Bangladesh government’s wilful blindness poses a danger for itself, and for India.
India will do well to reinforce, from Bangladesh’s experience, the lessons to be learnt from its own past on the dangers of making peace with religious radicalism of any hue. All accommodation with forces inimical to norms of liberal democracy grows into an ever-large threat to democracy itself.